Nearly three weeks later, Tony Bevan sat on a seat in the sun watching
“Pots.” It was Thursday afternoon and there was an “extra half.”
In front of him, standing with legs wide apart, very conscious of a new
covert coat and gaiters, stood Punch; a round diminutive Punch all by
himself, and overjoyed at his isolation. His family were at least three
When a covert coat, if it is to be a coat at all, necessarily reaches
almost to one’s knees, it is difficult to thrust one’s hands in
knickerbocker pockets. So Punch found it. He tried both, he tried
hard, but the coat would bunch out all round like a frill, so he
contented himself with one. With the other he occasionally shaded his
eyes, as though the watery November sun was too strong for him.
Sitting on the same seat with “Mitta Bevan,” as Punch called him, were
two boys–big boys. Punch liked big boys; they were generally quite
Presently he turned to Tony and said politely:
“I hope I don’t o’scure your view.”
The big boys made queer muffled sounds, but Tony said gravely:
“Well, if you _could_ stand, just a little to the left–or better still,
won’t you come and sit with us? You’d see just as well.”
Punch came, and was duly ensconced between Tony and one of the boys,
with a share of rug over his short legs.
“Where’s Lallie?” he asked; “she’s not been to see us for ages, nor to
sing for me.”
“Lallie is coming home the day after to-morrow. Are you glad? _I_ am,”
said Tony, and he looked it.
“Why did she go away so long for?”
“Well, you see, the lady she was staying with begged her to stay on and
on, and she’s very fond of that lady; but she’s really coming home on
“Will she come to see me on Saturday?”
“I’m not sure. You see she mightn’t get home very early, but I think
she’ll come and see you on Sunday afternoon if you’ll be at home.”
“I’ll be at home,” said Punch firmly; “I won’t go to the children’s
service with Pris and Prue.”
“I don’t think she’d come during service time.”
“I’d better not go lest she did,” Punch insisted. “I like Lallie.”
“I think we all like Lallie,” said Tony, and one of the “big boys”
sitting on the seat murmured: “And so say all of us,” and nudged his
Letter after letter had come from Lallie deferring her return. First it
was that–“there are five hundred little red names to sew on Claude
Chester’s garments before he returns to Egypt. Mrs. Chester seems to
imagine that there’s something magical about those names, and that they
will in some mysterious fashion prevent Claude losing his clothes, which
he does at the rate of about an outfit a year. I should think that the
whole of the Egyptian Army is taking a wear out of Claude’s vests and
things, judging by the amount he takes out and the few and holey
garments he brings back. Mrs. Chester says it hurts her eyes to thread
needles, and she’s a poor old woman with no daughter; and what would I
be tearing back to Hamchester for where no one particularly wants me
(that’s not true, is it?) when I can be of use here? So I really think
I’d better stay till the names are all firmly attached, but it won’t
Then, after the little red names were all sewed on, Mrs. Chester got an
exceedingly bad cold and had to stay in bed; and of course Lallie had to
stay on at Pinnels to look after her.
But she was really coming home to-morrow. Tarrant was getting up every
day for an hour or two, and it seemed only in keeping with the general
pleasantness of things that B. House should already have scored six
points to nil.
One thing about Lallie’s letter puzzled Tony. She never so much as
mentioned Ballinger. If she had given him his _congé_, this was natural
enough and like Lallie; but if not, what did it mean?
At half-past five that evening Sidney Ballinger’s card was brought in to
He never saw people in the drawing-room if he could possibly help it.
He never knew why he hated it so till Lallie commented upon its
stiffness. He received Sidney Ballinger in his study.
“Nervous, poor chap,” was Tony’s mental comment, as his guest came in.
He did his best to set him at his ease; supplied him with cigarettes;
offered him tea; whisky-and-soda; both refused.
“I dare say,” said Ballinger, “that Miss Clonmell told you I hoped you
would allow me to call. Is she at home?”
“She returns on Saturday; I thought you were at Pinnels also.”
“I left last Monday fortnight, and I haven’t heard from Miss Clonmell
since. I thought she was coming back next day.”
“Been having good hunting with the Cockshots?” asked Tony.
“Pretty fair. Mr. Bevan, it’s no use beating about the bush; you know,
I have no doubt, why I am here and why I have ventured to call upon you.
When I went to Pinnels three weeks ago I fully intended to ask Miss
Clonmell to be my wife–to ask her again. She told you that I had
already proposed to her?”
“She didn’t tell me. Her father did though.”
“Well, I didn’t ask her again at Pinnels: not in so many words; I never
got the chance.”
“That was unfortunate,” said Tony, and in spite of himself his eyes
“It was d–d unfortunate. I’ll make a clean breast of it. There was
another woman there–a married woman–with whom I had had a foolish
flirtation in my salad days–when I was at Cambridge. You know the
sort; older than I am, and horribly tenacious.”
Ballinger paused. Tony smoked thoughtfully but said nothing to help him
out. “A bit of a Goth,” thought Ballinger, and took up his tale again.
“Well, she made a scene. Told Lallie all about it, and before me, too;
and naturally Lallie–Miss Clonmell–was upset, and she wouldn’t listen
to me after that.”
“But why do you tell me all this?” asked Tony, and took his pipe out of
“You see, sir, I know that Miss Clonmell has a very high opinion of you;
that you have, in fact, enormous influence over her; and it seemed to me
that if you would tell her it really wasn’t anything so very bad.”
“Wasn’t it anything so very bad?”
“I assure you no– Folly if you like, egregious folly; but it might
have happened to any one. If you could tell Miss Clonmell that you have
seen me, that I have told you the whole thing, and that you think she
ought to forgive me–that she ought not to let it ruin both our lives.”
“That’s the point,” said Tony. “Will it ruin Miss Clonmell’s life if
she continues to take an adverse view of the circumstance you have just
related? Or is it only of your own life you are thinking?”
“I believe I could make her happy,” said Ballinger gloomily.
“I have no doubt you would do your best to do so, but one can never tell
what view a woman may take of such things; and I’m not sure that they
aren’t often perfectly right. Still, in Lallie’s case, she has had a
different bringing up from most girls. You can never depend on her
taking the conventional view. There is probably hope for you–_if_ she
“A very big if,” groaned Ballinger.
“If she doesn’t care, I can’t see how what you have told me would affect
her one way or other.” Tony took up his pipe again and stared steadily
into the fire.
Ballinger stared at him. How much did he know? Had Lallie written
about it to him? She probably would, and that’s why he said that about
not taking the conventional view. He didn’t make it very easy for a
fellow. Ballinger cleared his throat.
“May I,” he asked, “depend upon you to put my case as favourably as
possible before Miss Clonmell?”
“I can’t promise that. You see, to be perfectly candid, I know next to
nothing about you, except that you are well off and that Fitz Clonmell
likes you; but I will certainly point out to Miss Clonmell that it would
be a pity to let an affair of that sort–you said it was entirely ended,
I think; had been for some time–stand in the way where there was any
solid prospect of happiness. I can’t truly say I’m glad you told me of
this, for I’m not. It puts a horrid lot of responsibility on me, and an
old bachelor is hardly the adviser one would choose for a girl in
affairs of this kind.”
* * * * *
“I’ll put the common-sense view before Lallie, as I promised,” Tony
wrote to Fitz Clonmell that night; “but your Sidney Bargrave Ballinger
is too much of a ’Tomlinson’ for my taste.”